Getting outdoors and into nature, the fresh air, the feeling of exploring is the best way to fully connect with a place. I love being in the mountains, hiking. Travelling the world only enhanced this passion. I found that hiking into the wilderness and getting off the tourist trail was the best way to experience a new country. Hiking in New Zealand was incredible, the mountains, lakes and scenery in general was always aw-inspiring. I made it my mission to explore as much of New Zealand’s wilderness as possible in the last fifteen months. If you’re like me and want some adventure then look no further.
Welcome adventures, lets get off the beaten track with the guide to some of New Zealands best hikes!
Gertrude Saddle, Milford Sound
A day walk off the Milford Road, with the most incredible views. One of the best hikes in New Zealand; offering enough challenge to satisfy hardcore hikers, but safe enough for those with limited alpine experience. Follow trodden trail and orange markers into the valley, begin the steep climb over loose stones and grass. Cross waterfalls and rivers before scrambling over steep rock slabs – treacherous when wet or frosty – grab and follow the steel cables on the rocks to help you. Gertrude Saddle is surprisingly one of the quieter ‘popular’ day hikes in New Zealand, even on busy days it’ll feel quiet at the top.
You’ll be greeted with some incredible views if you’re lucky enough to have reached the top on a clear day. Look back from where you came and forward into Milford Sound…
To make it more epic why not camp up here? I did and wow, it was the greatest adventure I’ve had so far!
Tongariro Crossing, North Island
Possibly one of the most popular (and busy) hikes in New Zealand; but don’t let that stop you, it’s epic. Make it more challenging and escape the crowds if you – like me – are a crazy person and take a three hour detour to climb ‘Mt Doom’, or Mt Ngauruhoe as it’s known. I mean who wouldn’t want to climb the mountain Frodo struggled to climb, right? The views from the top of Mt Nhauruhoe are incredible; you’ll see the blue lakes, red lava rock and a landscape that looks as though you are on another planet. This is why the Tongariro Crossing is one of New Zealand’s Best Hikes.
The Tongariro Crossing is 19.4km one way. Shuttles back from the end are easily organised in the small town. In summer, start early to try and escape the crowds – also if you want to add on the mountain – and wear good hiking shoes! Summer makes this hiking trail easily walkable, but come winter you’d be stupid to do this without a guide. Unless you are very experienced in Alpine winter conditions.
If you’re backpacking New Zealand, don’t miss this. It’s definitely New Zealands best hikes on the North Island!
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Lake Marian, Fiordland Np.
If you want scenery to make your jaw literally drop, crystal clear waters and a lake surrounded by mountain peaks then this hike is for you. Lake Marian is an alpine lake in a valley formed by glacial movement. The lake is above the bush line and is surrounded by mountains with magnificent reflections if the weather is calm. Lake Marian is a favourite among many of my friends who rate it as their best hike in New Zealand.
The trail itself starts on the Holyford Road, off the Milford road…. on the way to Milford Sound (of course!). The trail up to the lake is around 3-4 hours return not taking into account the state of trail and the time you spend at the top! Although this trail is pretty popular and well trodden, it is not well kept and so is actually more challenging than you expect. A decent level of fitness and good shoes are definitely required for this one at all times of the year!
When you get to the top you’re going to be tired right? A little sweaty? Well there’s nothing more refreshing than a jump and swim in a glacial lake…. trust me. It’s good for the soul!
Routeburn Track, Fiordland NP.
One of New Zealand’s Great Walks, it is also in my opinion, one of the most scenic (or pretty!) walks I’ve ever done. Weave your way through meadows, reflective tarns and alpine gardens and you’ll find a reward in the form of spectacular vistas over vast mountain ranges, waterfalls and valleys.
This 32km track starts at the Divide on the Milford Road and ends in Glenorchy, just outside of Queenstown. This makes for a little bit of a logistical nightmare in terms of transport – my advice, do it with a friend and have one person starting from each end. – but there are many companies that offer transfer services, or just hitchhike your way back.
The route itself is well trodden, marked and taken care of. It is recommended to take around 2 – 4 days to do this track. I did it in a day. If you set off early enough, are pretty fit and just don’t want to spend fifty bucks to stay in a cabin, you can do it in a day easily. I’ve done this hike twice now and it definitely deserves to be classed as one of New Zealands best hikes!
The Kepler Track, Te Anau
Would you believe it if I told you this was my first solo, multi-day hike? Yep, one of New Zealand’s great walks (yep, another one) was my first overnight and wow, was it incredible. To paint you a picture, the Kepler Track offers tussock-covered ridge lines, Incredible alpine views which contrast with the peaceful lakeside and valley beech forest while offering a wilderness adventure…
What more could you want?
The trail itself is a sixty kilometre loop starting, and finishing at the control gates in Te Anau and it is recommended to do this hiking loop in 3 – 5 days. I did it in two but was pretty sore! The track itself is well trodden, people even run this track every year in as little as five hours! As if walking it wasn’t challenging enough. The Kepler track, although one of New Zealands best hikes, is definitely one of the more busier and is best tackled at the beginning or towards the end of the hiking season to avoid the crowds!
Ben Lomond, Queenstown
Queenstown is like a city in a small town. It can get a bit crazy, busy and sometimes you forget that you can escape all the tourist lures and head back into nature. Well you can. There are some beautiful hikes, day walks and nature escapes around Queenstown but Ben Lomond has to be one of the greatest. Standing at 1,748 metres it’s pretty impressive and offers incredible three-sixty panoramic views over the mountain ranges and Queenstown. I felt like I was standing on top of the world up here.
The hike starts from the ‘Tiki Trail’ next to the Queenstown Gondola (or you can cheat and ride the gondola half way up) and it’s an impressively steep, woodland trail. As much as my legs hated this, it was a beautiful hike and reminded me of Scottish pine forests! Once you hit around 800m the trail opens up and becomes slightly more level before the last push to the summit. The push to the summit is tough, really tough. But persevere! Once you reach the top you’ll be feeling like you want to plant a flag. Trust me, once up there you’ll understand why Ben Lomond is one of New Zealands best hikes. It’s incredible.
Ben Lomond Summit can be easily done in a day but start early. It will take around 7-8 hours return, which is of course is not including photo and lunch stops. I did this hike in late June, the beginning of New Zealand’s winter and the trail is in good condition but you definitely need good shoes. The summit was covered in ice and snow but manageable just wrap up warm! I probably wouldn’t tackle this beauty in mid winter though…
Lady Bowen Falls, Milford Sound
For those who like tracks no one else really knows about – except the locals – then this is for you. If you’ve cruised or kayaked in Milford you’ll have seen the falls from below, but the view from the top is better! I’m not going to tell you how to get on the Lady Bowen Falls track. Make some friends and ask around for the info down in Milford and give it a shot. This is NOT a well trodden track, it’s hard – if not kind of dangerous – if it’s been raining and once at the top, be careful not to slip!
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Expect to balance along pipelines, bush bashing, small climbs and a steep unmarked walk. But the views are epic. The fact that this is not a tourist trail and is not promoted makes this, for me, one of New Zealands best hikes and one of my favourite adventures!
Hooker Valley Track, Mt Cook
If you want to get lost in Narnia do this walk in winter. Aim for mid winter and you’ll get the hiking trail almost to yourself! Crunch through the snow, take out your headphones and listen to the sounds of the Glacier creaking as it moves through the mountains, calving off into the lake and the sound of avalanches and the rain off the mountain peaks in front of you.
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The trail itself is easily done in a day, if you are heading out in winter only go if you have experience in the wilderness/alpine conditions in winter. It’ll take around 4 hours return but really, it depends on you. I highly recommend setting off while the sun is up, but catching the sunset at Hooker Glacier, it’s incredible! One of New Zealands best hikes to do in the snow!
Roys Peak, Wanaka
Possibly one of the most Instagram friendly hikes in New Zealand, it’s a popular day hike for backpackers, trail runners and photographers a like. Roy’s Peak summit stands at an impressive 1578m offering incredible panorama views over Wanaka, the surrounding peaks and Mount Aspiring.
This hike is suitable for anyone; just as long as you have the mental strength to push yourself up while your legs are on fire! Starting earlier is better, just to avoid the crowds to be honest. It will take around 5-6 hours return to complete this hike and trust me; getting up early, being the first one at the top that day and getting to sit up there, enjoying the silence and the scenery is perfect.
Dore Pass, Fiordland NP.
This is one of the toughest hikes in New Zealand I had the pleasure of completing. This hike is best done over two days at least. Having a moderate to high level of fitness is a must as it; wilderness experience, trail locating and basically what to do when adventures take a tough turn.
This hike starts on the Milford Road at the Eglington Flatts. The car park is so small and tucked away you really have to know what you’re looking for to find it. The walk itself is only around 11km but it is a hard eleven kilometres and will take you around 8-10 hours if you are trying to do it in a day.
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So why is it one of New Zealands best hikes? Well you’ll pop up (literally) to one of the most beautiful views, overlooking Fiordland National park and Te Anau Downs. Drop down from here and you end up at Glade Hut, the start of another of of New Zealands best hikes; The Milford Track….
So there you have it, New Zealands best hikes! Get out there and enjoy!
New Zealand is a paradise for hikers, check out more ideas for day walks here!
Have you been hiking in New Zealand? What more would you add to this list?
I adore hiking and the mountains, there’s nothing I love more than getting ‘lost’ in the wilderness. Some of the hikes above are awesome but not for everyone, what may be easy for me may be difficult for you. Planning to venture into the New Zealand wilderness? Research the track and check the weather before hiking!